The economy of the UAE is, for the moment, founded on oil but its exploitation and the consequent wealth has not diminished the traditional importance of dates, either for the individual or in the minds of the agricultural experts. In world terms, the UAE ranks 9th in a table of palm tree cultivators, with an estimated population of 2-million trees. A report prepared by the UAE Chamber of Commerce suggests that of the available land suitable for fruit in the seven emirates, between 76 and 80 per cent is planted with date palms; some 62,000 dunams in 1981. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has given a detailed breakdown of the distribution of the trees by region.
Eastern (Fujairah): 538,500
Northern (Ras al Khaimah): 437,000
Central (Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qawain): 361,500
Southern (Al Ain): 9;292,000
Western (Abu Dhabi): 9;232,000
Although 40 per cent of the trees are not fruit-bearing, the total weight and value of the crop has been steadily increasing. More and more farmers are receiving help and advice from agricultural technology experts to fight pests and date-related killer diseases. The most common types of trees are Khanezi and Lulu but plans exist for the introduction of new strains.
Dates have always been a staple food for the Arabs of the Gulf as well as an export crop, whether packaged or fresh. As a raw material, dates are also used to make liquid sugar, vinegar and dibs (an indigenous honey made from the juice) as well as a constituent in some animal feeds. Other than the fruit itself, almost every part of the tree is put to use. The leaves are often dyed and then plaited into mats, trays or baskets. The wooden stalks are used for roofing the barasti huts which are constructed from the palm trunks, the twine and rope which ties the whole structure together is made from fibers. The palm date can really provide home and board on its own.
Not only is the UAE a leading producer but in yield and quality is second to none. A top grade cluster can be over a yard long, nearly a foot in diameter, and could be expected to command a price of Dh1,000 on the market. Ordinary palm trees usually produce between 55 and 90 pounds of dates every four years but with special attention the crop can be increased to as much as 420 pounds.
It has been officially decided that every year from now on, September 15th will be celebrated as Arab Palm Day. This year's, the first, was deemed a success and came about from a resolution at the Second Arab Conference on Palms and Dates which was held in Ras al Khaimah in February.